I went to the dark side and made it back alive

As any regular Dilbert reader will know, the dark side I refer to in the title of this post is "management". It's really easy for a good technical person to be promoted into management and, according to The Peter Principle, rise to their level of incompetence. My career (thus far) is a perfect example:

  • Job(-3)
    • Technician
    • Manager of technicians
  • Job(-2)
    • Engineer
    • Engineering Manager
  • Job(-1)
    • Contract programmer
    • Programmer
    • Embedded Systems Engineerr
    • Engineering Manager
    • Director of Engineering
    • CTO
    • Director of a Business unit
  • Job(0) Current job
    • Staff Engineer
    • Manager of Systems Engineering
    • Principle Architect

Notice anything different about my current job? (Bueller, Bueller, Bueller) It wasn't that I didn't like management (I knew that the first time I had more than 5 employees) ... it's that I figured out what to do about it!

In my previous jobs, I always hated the tasks I was required to do as "management" (though I always liked the pay increases). Scheduling, resource loading and constant adjustments based on changing business conditions seemed like a waste of my time, and my employers money. Worse yet, it seemed like those tasks consumed far more effort per unit output than technical or engineering tasks. It was, at least to me, a life of drudgery. I can't say that I ever rose to my level of incompetence, but I certainly approached it. I also want it understood that I treated my employees very well and was more of a facilitator (I'm not a PHB, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not).

Six months after starting my current job, the same promotion happened, followed by another three years of torture. Finally I asked why I was doing this to myself and over two more years, I had gotten rid of my employees and had managed to talk my way into a technical position that still paid well, and better yet, allows me to spend most of my time researching and writing white papers. I get to write a little software as long as I call them "proof-of-concepts". I even managed to get a raise out of it.

There are two points I want to make out of the "History of Steve Moyer" detailed above; The first is for those of you in large companies and the second is for those of you currently or contemplating the mISV lifestyle.

If you're in a large corporate environment, you'll likely feel the pressure to advance your career by becoming management. You need to understand yourself very well when making this decision. Some of you are probably more suited to being managers anyway ... it comes to you naturally. Other of you, like myself, will spend the rest of your lives feeling like you're wasting your time ... You need to consider alternate career paths. The good news is that more organizations are recognizing the fallacy of turning their brightest engineers into managers, and there's a cost advantage too. An MBA is way cheaper than a good engineer in today's environment.

For those of you with the mISV mindset, the message is the same; you need to know your strengths AND weaknesses. In my case, I KNOW that my partner will be a manager ... we just won't survive any other way. For those of you unsure of your strengths, weaknesses and preferences, I recommend you take a Miers-Briggs style personality assessment (like this one) and read "The E-Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber to get a better understanding of the three traits that interact in running a mISV.

My next post, "So you're a Programmer, but should you be?" will explore the personality traits that make some of us excellent programmers, using the Miers-Briggs rating that I refer to above.